One of the many blessings of having our country house in the Berkshires is that the little Triplex in Great Barrington has most of the same movies that pop up at the Lincoln Plaza theatre which I frequent in NYC. Thus it was that I saw two wonderful films just this week. For those not near an art-film house, consider these for your Netflix list: Footnote, from Israel, and The Kid with a Bike, from Belgium.
The two of them could not be more different, but both movies help us to understand people we would not otherwise understand, and to enter into the human condition unreservedly. Both revolve aroung father-son relationships, with results both revealing and heartbreaking.
Footnote takes us into the arcane world of Talmudic scholarship in Jerusalem. Does that sound foreign? Yes, but the rivalries of academia are the same everywhere, and fathers who envy their more successful sons can be found anywhere. The film is quite funny during the first half, then grows ever more probing and serious, though it has a sequence of cyber-sleuthing that almost has the tension of Lisbeth Salander sifting old photos (well, not quite). It is a story of frustrated endeavor that could happen in any field, and the unresolved ending leaves us feeling that we have just seen something from our own lives. The only thing, really, that is specific to Israel is the creepy presence of guards with enormous automatic guns at the entrance to every academic building.
The Kid With a Bike (Le gamin au vélo), a film from Belgium, is so fine that I urge everyone to consider it. It would be especially good to see with a young teenaged boy. There are many movies about troubled boys (The 400 Blows being the most obvious) but this one stands out. My heart was pounding throughout as the 11-year-old Cyril (played by one of the remarkable child actors that we seem to have in abundance these days) meets with one cruel rebuff after another and seems doomed to lifelong deliquency, but is found by redemption in some very surprising ways. I had not heard of the Dardennes brothers before, but I will surely seek out their earlier films. They are Roman Catholic, and their themes are recognizably Christian. I was happy to read the wonderful Anthony Lane’s review in The New Yorker and to learn that he was “laid prostrate” by the ending, and by the use of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto. I was laid prostrate too (and I am not even a Beethoven lover!)